Continuous Bodies, Impenetrability, and Contact Interactions: The View from the Applied Mathematics of Continuum Mechanics
Many philosophers have claimed that there is a tension between the impenetrability of matter and the possibility of contact between continuous bodies. This tension has led some to claim that impenetrable continuous bodies could not ever be in contact, and it has led others to posit certain structural features to continuous bodies that they believe would resolve the tension. Unfortunately, such philosophical discussions rarely borrow much from the investigation of actual matter. This is probably largely because actual matter is not continuous, and so it might seem as if discussion of the structure of continuous bodies is merely within the realm of philosophical thought experiments rather than actual scientific investigation. However, classical continuum mechanics models actual matter as if it were continuous, and it has implications about the structure of continuous bodies and about what contact and impenetrability are. This paper describes the relevant notions from classical continuum mechanics so as to resolve the alleged tension between contact and impenetrability.